A day in Phnom Penh

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Following on from her last photo blog, resident and tour leader, Tara, suggests the perfect way to spent a day in Phnom Penh.

If you’re looking for a point to start your Perfect Day in Phnom Penh, the place where Phnom Penh’s story all started makes perfect sense.

Take a tuk tuk to Wat Phnom (temple hill), the small hill north of the city, where religion and founding history go hand in hand. It’s a Buddhist ‘wat’ (temple) and the surrounding area provides a favourite hang out spot for families and couples.

The reason why I keep coming back here is the little Chinese temple is because I just can’t resist trying to catch a glimpse of my fortune. All the way in the back, there’s a little shrine where you will find a small wooden container, holding little numbered sticks. Think of an issue you have and shake the container carefully so that only one stick drops out. Show the number to the temple’s keeper and he will give you a little piece of paper with the corresponding explanation… in Khmer language – Your perfect opportunity to talk to a local! They will be happy to translate for you, as they will likely be curious to know a foreigner’s fortune! If you can’t find anyone, your hotel receptionist will be able to help you out later.

Cambodian Fortune Telling
Cambodian Fortune Telling

Jump in a moto taxi (if you can’t, don’t worry, they’ll soon find you) and enjoy a short, 1$ ride on the back of a motorbike to the covered central market (Phsar Thmey) for some 1930’s architectural and 2014’s personal style! Anything you need? You’ll find it here! Don’t spend all of your time in the small shops inside, go for a stroll along the stalls around the building to take a look at the wonderful flower arrangements and religious woodwork.

If your feet and the heat allow you, take a short walk to the corner of Street 154 and 81 where you will find ‘Cabaret’, a lovely tranquil place to relax and enjoy lunch, away from the market’s madness. I still haven’t decided who I find the most charming, the French PR lady or the Khmer staff, they all make you feel very welcome.

A visit to one of Phnom Penh’s many museums or spa’s will help you escape the afternoon sun until about 4pm, the best time of the day.

It probably doesn’t sound like a perfect part of your perfect day, because Cambodia’s recent history is far from that, but spending time at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in the former S21 Prison will give you the perfect insight:

You’ll understand why Cambodians are just happy to be alive, why they really don’t care about the tenth power cut today, why they collectively feel that they’re making awesome progress and why they’re so grateful just knowing where their family members are.

To us, life in Cambodia might sometimes look like random chaos with everybody just doing what they’re doing. To them, this is what peace looks like.

Around 4pm, the city comes to life. Jump in a tuk tuk and ask the driver to drop you somewhere along the riverfront (Sisowath Quay) and make your way down to the Royal Palace grounds. The further north the driver drops you off, the more strolling and people watching you’ll enjoy.

Royal Palace grounds, Phnom Penh
Royal Palace grounds, Phnom Penh

Everybody’s out at the riverfront now or in the green area between the Royal Palace and the river, for some walking, socializing, playing football, buying balloons or having a picnic.

Football in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Football in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

If you’ve worked up an appetite, buy a local snack from one of the street vendors, or if you wanna go with what you know, stop at the corner of Sisowath Quay and Street 184 for some of Cupcake Café’s cheerfully coloured delights and a coffee to go and join the picnicking locals.

No better place for pre dinner drinks than nearby ‘FCC’ (corner Street 178) where you find one of the best river views and people watching seats on their rooftop terrace (best before 5:30pm) Even after sunset, you can enjoy the lively atmosphere and great food.

But if you prefer to go local and try the best traditional dishes from the provinces, go for dinner at ‘Romdeng’, one of my favorite restaurants, where the crispy fried tarantula is waiting for you!

Fried tarantula, Cambodia
Fried tarantula, Cambodia

Phnom Penh is a great city. Take a look at Tyler’s photos from the capital.  Let us help you discover it.

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